When she was in college, going out to bars on the weekends was one of the most exciting things that she was able to do, as an adult. Before that, she’d had to adhere to her parents’ strict rules: no television, no boys, and no staying out past nine PM—even on weekends.
Her friends had encouraged her, persistently, to break those rules. Let down your hair, Em, they would say. Live a little!
But she couldn’t. Because even the thought that her parents might find out and be just the tiniest bit upset with her filled Emma with dread. So she never had so much as a sip of wine before her first day at university—who was a blissful 376 miles away from her hometown. She was finally free to party as much as she wanted, to stay up past midnight and hang out with her friends in their dorm rooms. She could do whatever she pleased and there was nobody around to stop her.
Which is why she spent her weekends at the bar, spending the money her parents sent her for food and school supplies on cheap bourbon on the rocks and dancing with the boys she was never allowed to go near before. She went to Frat parties, where she took her first pull on a joint and made out with a girl who assured her that it wasn’t gay because they were just high.
Even back then Emma had wanted to laugh at it all, laugh at herself for getting so caught up in the way her life had begun to spiral out of control. Sort of.
Despite spending her weekends at the bar and using all of her textbook money on alcohol and dime bags, Emma was able to keep up with her studies by barricading herself in the library with her classmates. Her GPA was decent enough to keep her parents satisfied and to keep the school from taking away her scholarships, but she no longer felt accomplished.
School had been her vice at one point in her life (elementary through high school) and high grades had been the only thing that she really excelled at. Her parents didn’t let her hang around boys very much (she couldn’t even have guy friends) and, likewise, the boys typically didn’t like the girl who studied too hard and never went to their parties on weekends. Emma doesn’t think that she ever really cared what boys thought of her, but her friends’ insistence that she would never find a boyfriend if she didn’t learn to loosen up had her flirting with as many as she could every chance that she got in college.
She lost her virginity before her first semester was even half over.
She had her first pregnancy scare in her second year. She had her second less than a month later.
At some point, she just stopped talking to boys at bars. She refused their advances and rebuffed their offers to buy her a drink. She could buy herself drinks and she didn’t need anybody to make her feel like she owed them. It didn’t take too long before she became the girl that no boy wanted to be around; the buzzkill.
Emma graduated Magna Cum Laude and single. Her parents were very proud.
She had dozens of job offers when she got out of school and accepted the one that paid the most and took her as far away from her parents as possible. As much as she loved them, their constant hovering criticism was both unwanted and unneeded. She was plenty critical of herself, thank you very much.
Her bar-hopping didn’t really end there, though. She still found herself out every weekend, rebuffing grown men twice her age and ignoring their spiteful insults, muttered under their breath so that she wouldn’t hear (or, perhaps, just loud enough so that only she would) as they walked away. She rolled her eyes and ordered another; one drink for each ‘nice guy’ she came across.
She went home drunk every single night.
Her work never suffered and neither did her finances, as much as she spent on alcohol each weekend. But she never…if anything, her romantic life was the thing that needed some work.
Emma sat at the bar every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with her fist wrapped around a glass, watching as women accepted drink offers from the same men that she had denied; as couples traded kisses for garnishes and giggled against each other’s shoulders. She watched as girls giggled as men told jokes that she couldn’t hear—jokes that she honestly didn’t want to hear. But she did want to laugh. She wanted to make them laugh and she drank to forget that fact.
“Jennifer, is that you?”
Emma jumped at the sound of the voice in her ear and before she had even fully turned toward it, long, thin arms were wrapping around her in a tight hug, pulling her against a cushiony chest as that same voice whispered in her ear:
“Just go with it.”
When the woman pulled away, Emma was struck dumb by a pair of emerald green eyes and lips as pink as rose petals, hair the color of the sweetest chocolate. The scent of vanilla invaded her senses and forced her to take a deep breath, before she spoke, her voice only slightly choked.
“Hey! I, uh, haven’t seen you in a while. H-how’ve you been?”
“Fantastic!” the pretty woman said, occupying the stool next to Emma as she grabbed her hand. “I can’t wait to tell you all about my trip!” She turned to say something to a portly man glaring at them from a few feet away. “Sorry to cut our date short,” she said, “but I haven’t seen Jen in so long. I’ll call you, okay?” She didn’t even wait for him to respond before she had turned back to Emma and leaned in, keeping a smile glued on her face. “Let me know when he leaves,” she whispered through clenched teeth.
Emma’s eyes were still stuck on their intertwined fingers, her mouth gone dry. She heard a giggle and she looked up into the woman’s green eyes. She swallowed thickly at the sweet, dimpled grin on her face. The hand around hers tightened and shook.
“I’m Kayla, by the way,” she said.
“Emma,” she whispered back, averting her gaze for only a second before dragging it back to Kayla’s. “He’s…he just walked out.”
Kayla’s shoulders slumped in relief. “Thank God,” she said. “Thank you, actually. Can I buy you a drink?”
Emma could feel the heat in her cheeks and knew that it definitely showed, but she nodded still. “Yes,” she said. “That would be…that would be nice.”
The smile on Kayla’s lips nearly knocked Emma off of her stool.